Tony Aliengena of San Juan Capistrano upstaged Lenin on Wednesday, drawing hundreds of Soviets out of the line to the communist leader's tomb as Tony and his family unfurled a 1,000-foot friendship scroll in the middle of Red Square.
The event represented a dramatic climax to a day in which the 11-year-old aviator and his family met with top Soviet officials in the Kremlin, though not with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. They presented the scroll and a sackful of 75,000 pen-pal letters as good-will gestures from children in the United States to their counterparts in the Soviet Union.
The boy pilot left John Wayne Airport on June 5, beginning a 17,000-mile around-the-world journey that is scheduled to bring him back to Orange County on July 21. After leaving Moscow, he will fly across the Soviet Union through Siberia and on to Alaska, where he will then head south over Canada and along the U.S. coast.
The scroll, signed by more than 250,000 U.S. schoolchildren, originally was to be unfurled Thursday but, buoyed by the praise heaped upon them by Soviet officials in the Kremlin meeting, Tony's father, Gary Aliengena, suggested that the scroll be unveiled immediately.
So the Aliengena delegation, dressed in their Sunday best and flanked by an entourage of a dozen people, marched directly out into Red Square, set up the scroll on a stand and began unfolding it slowly as bystanders gazed in puzzlement.
Hundreds of people standing in line to view Lenin's tomb, one of the more popular attractions in Moscow, directed their attention toward the Americans who were stretching the scroll across the square under a Wednesday afternoon canopy of threatening clouds.
At one point, while struggling to hold the scroll still against gusts of winds, Gary Aliengena frantically called out to bystanders to help.
"You Soviets, please help us," he said.
First a few bystanders knelt to help hold the scroll and then dozens more pitched in, forming the leading edge of a line that in some places was 10 people deep.
Striding the length of the scroll after it had been unfurled, Aliengena recounted the names and places on the scroll, which was signed by schoolchildren when Tony flew across the United States on the first leg of his around-the-world flight.
"This is the best one. . . . Look, thumbprints," Aliengena said to Gennady Alferenko, director of the Soviet agency sponsoring Tony's trip through that country, as he pointed proudly to where Indiana elementary school students had drawn faces on their thumbprints.
"And look at this one," he added, gesturing at where seven smiling students from Montana were shown on a photograph. "This is the whole school."
Aliengena seemed on the verge of tears as he recounted the cities where the signatures had been gathered and reminisced over the months in which he and his wife, Susan, had stayed up nights putting together pieces of the scroll that had been mailed in from schools all over the United States.
Alferenko, director of the Soviet Foundation for Social Inventions, a non-government agency, also appeared moved by the display.
"Unbelievable," he said.
The Soviet citizens who crowded around the scroll at first did not know what it was about, but upon seeing the thousands of signatures in awkward child-like scrawl, they quickly caught on.
"By children, yes?" a grizzled old man asked Aliengena, who nodded.
A younger man in the crowd asked a Times reporter: "You are American reporter? Tell the people in the United States we want peace."
Even the threatening sky failed to dampen the spirits of Aliengena and his son. With raindrops falling intermittently, Aliengena ordered that the scroll be let out another 20 feet to its very last inch.
Tony, dressed in a gray pinstripe suit, ran back and forth along the length of the scroll checking it out.
The public display lasted only 20 minutes. Alferenko explained that Red Square security officials had instructed that the scroll be rolled back up within that time. But Alferenko added that it was highly unusual for the security officials to have granted permission for such a spontaneous display in Red Square where public events normally require lengthy advance approval.
The overwhelming show of support in Red Square softened the disappointment that the Aliengenas experienced in not being able to meet with Gorbachev, who was reported to be busy elsewhere in the Kremlin presiding over the new Supreme Soviet.
Gorbachev instead dispatched the man in charge of Soviet youth affairs and three other officials to formally receive Tony, his family and selected members of his entourage in a lavishly appointed reception room used by the Soviet president to meet foreign dignitaries.
The meeting with Valery Tsybukh, president of Gorbachev's Parliamentary Committee for Youth, lasted 40 minutes and included good-will speeches by both the Soviets and the Americans, facing each other summit-style across a long conference table.
"We are happy to meet the participants of such an incredible friendship flight and we see that Friendship Flight 89 means that all of the people of the United States can look forward to good understanding between our countries," Tsybukh said through an interpreter.
"The whole world is looking at Tony now and we are also following the stories of his flight," he continued. "This meeting was organized by Soviet President Gorbachev. He is well informed about the idea of the flight and he appreciates it very much. He said it was a symbol of friendship between the children of our countries."
"And he also said it was an example of people diplomacy, and he appreciates very much your idea Tony, and he said that it was a great contribution to peace between our two countries. . . . In this very room there are high-ranking international meetings; it is also symbolic that in this room we are ready to accept the friendship letters."
Aliengena, speaking for his son, expressed awe that a meeting in the Kremlin was finally taking place.
"In our wildest dreams we never thought that we would be sitting in the Kremlin right now," he said. "Every one of the quarter of a million children who touched this scroll feel closer to the Soviet children than they felt a year ago. It became my family's dream that there was more to our countries than our leaders. So it became people-to-people diplomacy."
Aliengena then presented Tsybukh a certificate from the U.S. Air Force auxiliary to commend the Soviet Union for its cooperation with the United States using satellite technology to locate lost airplanes.
His wife, Susan, also gave Tsybukh a gift package containing two model swallows from the family's hometown of San Juan Capistrano. And Tony's 10-year-old sister, Aliana, presented him with a Minnie Mouse doll.
"I would like to give this to Gorbachev's granddaughter," Aliana said.
Tsybukh in turn presented a book each to Tony and Aliana, detailing the Soviet Union's achievements in space flight.
Tony and his entourage had already learned some of that country's involvement in spaceflight after having toured the Exhibition of Economic and Agriculture Achievement, which contains a space exhibit.
After the tour, the group went to the nearby Central Political Pavilion where a Soviet version of the friendship scroll was unfurled in a lobby for Soviet children to sign.
"Let the peace be all the time. All of the people of the Soviet Union are looking for it," 13-year-old Natasha wrote in Russian.
"No war!" another youngster wrote above a drawing of an nuclear bomb blast.
In a Wednesday morning tour of the offices of Pioneer Pravda, a children's newspaper with a circulation of 11 million, Tony and his family were serenaded by 20 members of the Young Pioneers, a Communist Party youth organization.
Strumming guitars and clapping hands, they sang rousing renditions of such tunes as "It's a Small World" and "We Shall Overcome."
"It is so nice to see young heroes like you," Olga Grekova, editor of Pioneer Pravda, said in welcoming Tony. "We want to tell you about our life by way of song."
The youngsters, who got a chance to question the boy aviator, came away from their meeting impressed.
"I think that Tony came to (the) Soviet Union not only because he (wanted) to fly, but because he (wanted) to learn about life in the Soviet Union and to make friends with some of our children," said 14-year-old Marina Grashina, an eighth grader who was leading the song.